NYCC 2015, Day 4

By the final day of NYCC, I was pretty wiped, so I decided after a quick tour of the show floor to say hi to people I would find a panel or two, sit, and then take off. I wanted to see the Wabbit! panel at 12:15, so walked into the one before it, and ended up being one of the last folks at Scholastic’s Goosebumps/Baby-Sitter’s Club joint panel. Those series are a bit young for me, but it was nice to see the crowd’s enthusiasm at seeing legends of their childhood on stage.

The panel consisted of R.L. Stine, who was highly amusing throughout; Dave Romans, who does some Goosebumps graphic novels; Ann M. Martin, the author of The Baby-Sitter’s Club; and Raina Telgemeier, who’s doing a graphic novel of that. The authors agreed that one of the most gratifying things about the job is hearing adults come up to them and say that Goosebumps or BSC inspired them to become writers, or editors, or librarians. The two series both suffer from parents not considering them ‘real’ books, so they think their kids aren’t readers even though they’re reading every day. Goosebumps, of course, has a movie out this week, so Stine discussed his having to do 25 interviews in one day to publicize it. He was also amused at people trying to find a moral lesson in Goosebumps – he thinks the basic moral is “Run!”.

Sometimes listening to fans can backfire – Stine kept hearing people ask if he would write a horror novel for adults, so he did – and it bombed. He also discussed the use of cell phones in modern horror making it far more difficult to isolate and panic people. “Who is the one calling me?” doesn’t work as well with caller ID. He was asked about the most scary Goosebumps, and he admitted it was probably the first, as he didn’t have the horror/humor down yet. Martin was asked what the best BSC books are, and she said the most serious ones usually. They also talked about controversial books – Stine had written a Fear Street book called Best Friend that ended with the bad guy winning, and the outrage was huge. Martin said it was a book where one cast member moves away – she had to have them move back as she got too many letters. We also got Stine saying his wife said he was too old to play himself in the movie, which was highly amusing. An excellent panel, and fans were pleased.

After that I attended the Looney Tunes panel, debuting an episode of the current show Wabbit!. Unlike previous efforts to update Looney Tunes that tried to change the formula, this seems to be basic cartoon shorts simply set in 2015, and I was more entertained than I expected, given how much of a purist I am. The animation is looker and occasionally has a Ren & Stimpy feel, and the voice acting is smooth, not trying to slavishly imitate Mel Blanc. There’s a new character called Squeaks who speaks in gibberish, there I think to be a younger sidekick to Bugs. I felt it was a good, solid update.

After that we saw one of the directors, Gary Hartle, and three of the voice actors; J.P. Karliak, Bob Bergen, and Jeff Bergman. I was pleased to see Gary mention that Bugs sometimes needed to be a “stinker”, and they are taking care not to make him too all-powerful or smug like later Chuck Jones Bugs could be. Bugs can also be a sore loser when he’s paired off against people more confident than he is. They also discussed how this new series went back to the basics they did in the 40s and 50s – they think of a premise and then come up with gags and pin them to a wall, as opposed to writing a full script. This allows the plot to be more modular and fluid. The goal is to entertain. They also have voice actors working together more often than they used to, so that they can play and build off of each other.

These aren’t your grandparent’s Looney Tunes; there’s also a desire to fill them out as characters. Bugs has different sides to him, as does Daffy Duck, who they’re deliberately trying to walk back to being Daffy here, as opposed to “Bitter, Jealous Duck”. QUA asked how they come up with stuff for the various characters to do – they said they come up with ideas and see who the best fit would be for them, casting the characters like actors. Speaking of which, Bergen said they still do have to audition, and come in with two monologues each to do AS their character. They also had highly amusing anecdotes about how they met Mel Blanc – they stalked him, essentially, and had to tell the audience multiple times DON’T DO THIS. All in all, I’m pleased with the hands Looney Tunes are in.

After that I went over to the Bookwalker booth, but I’ll talk about that in a separate post. And then I departed. NYCC this year was a fun experience for me, with a lot of panels I’d never really tried before. The sheer scope of the diversity track was amazing and thrilling, and I urge everyone to follow their advice: if you want to change comics, do it by buying the things you love. The manga and anime tracks were also good this year, and there was less of a sense of it being off to the side as there has been in past years. I hope that these posts have given you a taste of what you can expect at this event – just imagine me with 155,000 more people around me and you’ll get the gist.

NYCC 2015, Day 3

Saturday at NYCC was well-balanced between the manga industry panels I am actually here for and the diverse comic panels I’ve found fascinating all week. It began with Yen Press, who were in the smallest panel room of the con, so naturally it filled up 15 minutes before the start. They opened right off with new licenses. Saiteihen no Otoko is a Gangan Joker title about a loser guy who sees a new transfer student who is more than she seems. Yen is calling it Scumbag Loser, which given the cover seems entirely appropriate, and it’s in one big omnibus. The author may be best known for Gun x Clover.

Corpse Party: Blood Covered is a 10-volume series based on a visual novel that features a cast of kids getting brutally murdered, so I can see why Kurt at the panel said it was for Higurashi fans. I’d argue that it’s survival game fans who’d get the most out of it. It ran in Gangan Powered, then Gangan Joker. Space Dandy is based off of the anime, and runs in Young Gangan – it looks pretty servicey. Also in Young Gangan is Dimension W, an 8+ volume series that’s a cyberpunk alternate history where Tesla won. The author did King of Thorn and Cat Paradise. Lastly, Unhappy Go Lucky (just ‘Unhappy’ in Japan) is a Houbunsha title from Manga Time Kirara Forward, a sweet comedy about schoolkids trying to change their bad luck. It’s for the K-On! Crowd.

Yen On also had some new licenses. Psycome is better known as Psycho Love Comedy, and as a man falsely accused of murder get sent to a prison where all the girls are also murderers… and falling for him. This is from Enterbrain, and looks very, very silly. Overlord is also from Enterbrain, and is another in a line of ‘trapped in a game’ series. It’ 9+ volumes. They also picked up the manga, which is a Kadokawa title from Comp Ace. Lastly, The Boy and the Beast is a novelization of a movie by the creator of Summer Wars and Wolf Children. And they have a manga tie-in for that as well, from Kadokawa’s Shonen Ace.

Q&A discussed finding the right balance between properties when licensing, Kurt again promoting Yen On to the hilt, a discussion of digital rights and why some obvious series (SAO and Index novels) don ‘t have them – often it’s the author’s own choice. Emma was praised, and Kurt mentioned how difficult license rescues are. He also chided Index fans who want to be caught up all at once, which is simply impossible in today’s market. Translation was talked about, and how to make it readable while keeping the author’s style – I’ve discussed this with Index.

After is I went to see Kodansha, and was so excited to meet several of the editors and licensors that I left my notebook outside (later I was able to retrieve it. Yes, I write longhand at cons – it helps me remember better). So the Kodansha panel was on the tablet. The actual licenses were just two, but they were quite exciting. Spoof on Titan is a 4-koma parody that ran on Mangabox last year, and Kodansha has secured the print rights. I Am Space Dandy seems to be the Mangabox version as well, which Kodansha released last year in Japan.

After a rundown of previously announced titles that will be coming out next year, and the big news that the next Vinland Saga will have a 4-koma done by Faith Erin Hicks, they discussed their digital line, available on various platforms. They had partnered with Crunchyroll for a few big series that did not really justify print – we’re n ow going to see these in volume format, still digital only. This includes Fort of Apocalypse, As the Gods Will, Fuuka by my nemesis Seo Kouji, My Wife is Wagatsuma-san, and the cult favorite Space Brothers.

After this was the main event, as we had Noragami’s editor, Yohei Takami. (No, not the artist, he’s busy making the manga.) He discussed the origins of the title, and the concept art of a failed god in a tracksuit, which was actually created for something else. We saw the rough sketches of several pages, something very rarely shown off to casual readers – they were indeed very rough. The pencils were more of a finished product. I asked about how one breaks into editing and got a very fun answer about being first in the office and picking up the phone when an artist calls – allegedly how Attack on Titan’s editor got his gig!

After this I went to Prism Comics’ panel on queer autobiographies, which had, as you might expect, quite a diverse group – Ariel Schrag, L Nichols, Sina Grace, Morgan Boecher, Carlo Quispe, and A.K. Summers. They all had a wide variety of ways they fell into telling their stories as a comic – there’s no one clichéd way. L Nichols is a “Southern Baptist” raised queer, whose title Flocks describes budding realization of sexuality at church camp and Bible School into transitioning. Morgan also discussed coming out as trans to friends, and how the reaction was not as expected – his female friends felt devalued at first. It was mentioned that with the comics art it’s easy to show off bodies in transition.

Carlo Quispe’s comics are far more political, deliberately so – he thinks comics can help push a political message without making it obvious and can use the medium to avoid showing a specific gender or race. He wants to change the minds of those who disagree with him the most – an impressive goal. Summers has a comic called Pregnant Butch, whose plot matches its title – it’s her experiences as a butch lesbian who is now pregnant, and the question of whether that’s even possible for a butch. She had to decide what to put in – it’s all very well to write an autobiographical comic, but there are other people in your life who might not want to be in it. And she discussed that fact that, well, she looks like a pregnant Tintin, something which seems to amuse her greatly, particularly given the historical Tintin’s unfilled-in sexuality as a boy living a man’s life.

Ariel talked about some of the pitfalls of the genre – you can use pain to help you write comics, but it can detach you from real emotion and make you too obsessive. It may also not want to be something you do WHILE it happens – perspective is a wonderful thing. Sina Grace agreed, and said it wasn’t healthy to imagine your life as a story while it’s actually happening. The goal is to capture the moment, not relive it.

Q&A was broad. The nature of autobiography and comics was developed, and some noted the internal state of the characters being easier in comic form – indeed, sometimes it’s easier when the “you” you create is a caricature. This is also a hard type of book to sell – Pregnant Butch didn’t sell till it was put up as a webcomic, despite much trying beforehand. And Uranus, Carlos’ book, as from an artbook publisher who didn’t want to mention it was a comic! They were also asked about the recent success of Fun Home, and whether that might help others to break through. Lastly, Prism discussed their new anthology debuting at Wondercon, with over 40 contributors.

I had not seen last year’s Women in Geek Media, so was happy to get into the sequel panel. Alicia Grauso was the moderator, and said the panel was specific to women but also useful for anyone who wanted to break into geek media. Also there were Jodie Hauser, Katrina Hill, Jamie Broadnax, Sam Maggs, and Deb Aoki. The panel was filled wish advice for the aspiring geek. Promote yourself. Network. Use social media properly. Try to get in as a contributor to a site, then write articles and find your own voice.

Of course, this can be difficult, particularly in a Gamergate world. You need to recognize what’s an honest dissenting opinion and who’s just being a troll. And learn to listen to the honest disagreements with equanimity as well. You should be professional – never air your dirty laundry in public. On the other hand, you absolutely can be angry about the ongoing lack of diversity. Think about what the best use of your time is. I haven’t mentioned who said much in this recap, but that’s mostly as the whole group were all on the same page. Diversity does not have to equal mediocrity – it should strive for the best. Also, everyone hated Season 5 of Game of Thrones. Even the GoT wiki owner.

My last panel of the day was far more relaxed, and also offered free coffee. Coffee, Food and Comics turned out to be equally balanced between titles with food and artists discussing their own need for food/coffee during creation. They discussed favorite food titles, both Western (Starve, Lucy Kinsley, The Comic Book History of Beer) and manga (Oishinbo, Drops of God, Toriko). It can be hard to market a cookbook comic, though – cookbook publishers don’t want comics and vice versa. That said, there’s never been a better time to self-publish. Interest is at an all-time high. The panel continued in a relaxed state, which extended to the Q&A, discussing things like the recent retirement of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch mascot, which I only mention as it had the word cerealpomorphic.

The theme of today, and indeed the entire con, is this: if you want more than just white male superheroes, support people creating them with your money. That’s something everyone agreed on no matter what the panel. I suspect Sunday will tell me that as well.

NYCC 2015, Day 2

Friday was the day that my planned schedule just blew up. And I’m happy that it did, as I got to see some really great panels. I started off at 11am with “From Blackface to Black Panther”, an examination of the role of black characters in comics over the years, from stereotypes such as the Imp and Ebony White to more modern-day characters. It started off with a brief history, discussing the debut of blackface in the 1830s and the creation of minstrel shows which created the stereotypes still known today – the “Stepin Fetchit” roles, etc. This then transferred to film, cartoons, radio and TV. Civil Right helped to change America, and it led to changes in comics – be it via All-Negro Comics, William Gaines taking on the comics code over a central character being black, Lobo (the Dell Comics version), or Black Panther for Marvel.

The panel then started in earnest, noting that if people get discomfited when racism is discussed, that’s a good thing – dialogue is good. The panel was very diverse, with comic artists and creators but also comic shop owners, a pastor, and the chaplain at a Hospice. They discussed when they first became aware of racial stereotypes. The difference between John Stewart and Luke Cage was mentioned, Gabe Jones in Sgt. Fury, and how it was shocking to realize that was a fantasy – there were no integrated WWII units. Looney Tunes were mentioned, with Bushy Hare, where Bugs mocks a Australian Aborigine, being singled out as particularly reprehensible. Black characters whose story begins with them stealing, or having a desire to be heroic for money rather than ideals.

It was mentioned that a lot of black characters are still mostly written by white guys, and it tends to show in dated lingo showing up in supposedly modern comics. Many characters who are black still tend to be from the streets or the ghetto, as opposed to a lot of modern black youth. Most interesting was the pastor mentioning how he always hated Black Panther for going on about not doing good if it meant risking his kingdom. It wasn’t till he grew up that he realized that Black Panther was protecting it from encroachment by whites.

They then discussed the challenging aspects of writing for black characters. Some are the same as all writers – how to make a character interesting. It can be a challenge this type of character, as it’s hard to “avoid avoiding stereotypes. One big problem is the fact that Marvel and DC still rely on 40-50 year old heroes – we need more original black heroes to take off. (DC was mocked a lot in this panel for their backwards views on many things.) More to the point, we need more black creators at all levels of production – creating comics and in editorial/publishing. It extends to film and TV as well – even in a TV show with a mostly black cast, the staff behind the camera tends to be white. And most importantly, folks need to BUY and show their support – money talks.

After this came a panel on gay, yaoi and yuri manga in Japan and North America. Deb Aoki moderated a panel with Chris Butcher of the Beguiling comic store, Erica Friedman of Okazu, Ann Ishii, who is behind the Massive gay manga anthology, and Ed Chavez of Vertical Comics. First terms were defined, as BL is not written by or for gay men, whereas gay manga is. As for yuri, it’s defined by the audience preconceptions – if they want it to be yuri, then it is. That said, does any of this reflect reality in modern Japan?

There’s been an uptick in Japan recently in realism or essay manga – simply drawn life stories that appear in josei or seinen magazines. A lot of those discuss gay and lesbian themes. A slew of creators were mentioned, including Tagame, Jiraiyah, and Nakamura Ching of Gunjo fame. Some titles mentioned that are out over here include Blue (out of print from Ponent Mon), and Seven Seas’ yuri titles, most of which tend towards the male yuri fan, with adorable moe girls meeting in all girls’ schools.

Ed admitted Vertical hadn’t gotten many requests for BL or yuri, though What Did You Eat Yesterday? is an obvious exception. It was mentioned how hyperrealistic Yoshinaga is trying to make it, possibly as “penance” for doing unrealistic BL for so long. Things are getting more mainstream in Japan now, though – josei is starting to do stories with more realistic lesbians, and Futabasha’s Manga Action, a seinen title, has Tagame’s manga about a man dealing with his brother’s husband, who is not only gay but – horrors! – Canadian. There are also a lot of AIDS awareness book,s in Japan with manga-style art – which shows that gay and lesbian folks in Japan can still be otaku and like moe stuff.

Q&A discussed avoiding popular series where a character is under 18 – it’s very hard, particularly in North America, to avoid the “gay = pedo” negative stereotype, and so they take no changes as they would be branded with a label. There was also a discussion of something that had been mentioned earlier, with yuri publishers worrying if too many female readers read their titles. Someone wondered if the same might happen in reverse? All in all, a fascinating panel with a lot of discourse.

As this was going on, Viz were announcing a pile of things in their own panel. Seventh Garden is a Jump Square title about a man forced to become the servant of a demon. Black Clover is a new Jump series from the creator of Hungry Joker with magic and wizards and grimoires and coolness, as you’d expect from a Jump title. Monster Hunter – Senkou no Kariudo is an Enterbrain series from Famitsu Comic Clear, and as you’d guess features monsters and those who hunt them. Not Elves, though, that series is too old.

Totsuzen Desu ga, Ashita Kekkon Shnimasu is a new “Josei Beat” series that Viz is releasing as Everyone’s Getting Married. It’s from Petit Comic, and will be rated M, so is along the lines of Happy Marriage and Butterflies, Flowers. The lead doesn’t look like a pushover – looking forward to this. Then they brought out the biggies. Akatsuki no Yona is a 19+ volume Hana to Yume series whose recent anime finally garnered enough interest to get Viz to pick it up for Beat. I can’t say enough about how awesome it is, particularly its lead. You may recall the author from the series NG Life. This is better.

Do you like sports manga? We have not one but TWO Jump sports manga titles. Kuroko no Basket has been running for a looong time, and has 3 anime series and a big BL fandom. Now that it’s ended in Japan, and Via has finished Slam Dunk, there’s room for a new basketball title. And Haikyuu is a volleyball manga that has an anime as well, with many themes common to other Japanese sports manga. These are both big deals, and if you want more sports titles you should support them. Sadly, still no Medaka Box. (I kid because I love.)

Back to panels I did attend with Asian-American comic creators. There was a lot of big talent on this one. Greg Pak was the moderator, and we also had Amy Chu, Ethan Young, Janice Chiang, Larry Hama, Marjorie Liu, and Wendy Xu. They discussed who they were and what motivates them to draw comics in general and comics with Asian-American characters in particular. These ranged from simply wanting to touch people with their comics to wanting to see more Asian-Americans they could relate to, to grappling with the identity of being Chinese-American or Korean-American.

The manga boom was mentioned as an obvious new source of readers – they wanted more Asians in their comics, and weren’t getting them from Marvel or DC. Things are changing, yes, but it’s not immediately obvious or “big” – Larry mentioned asking DC why they still colored Asians as yellow, and the answer was “Oh, we’ve always done that”. It doesn’t even have to be conscious – when he mentioned they should stop that, they were quick to do so, but he had to speak up. There was also discussion of stereotypes such as the Fu Manchu Yellow Peril, or Asians as cowardly. (I was amused by Marjorie noting her grandparents honest to God owned a Chinese laundry.)

There were some very interesting stories regarding what publishers said didn’t sell. A Romance publisher told Marjorie to change her name as Chinese named romances didn’t sell. Larry once wrote a Chinese noir story and was told that genre didn’t have Chinese heroes, possibly forgetting Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto. And of course there’s the white guy worry that things are getting TOO diverse – “whoah, we already have two Asian-Americans! There’s no room for a third! We’re full!” And again, as in most panels I’ve been to this con, the audience was told to affect change by buying stuff.

Stereotypes are hard, as sometimes you do want to use them – can you write a kung-fu book without it getting into negative stereotypes? You get self-conscious, trying to avoid Chinatown, or yakuza, or Dragon Ladies. And there is the burden they feel about needing to “represent their race”. Things ended with a Q&A, which got into the Yellowface fiasco of Avatar’s movie, the balance between ‘Asian’ and ‘American’, and how the panel all agreed that New York City has some of the best positive diversity in the US. A terrific panel.

Speaking of terrific panels, Archie Comics is always a highlight of every NYCC, if only as it has the most talented public speakers. Archie Comics is 75 next year, and there’s a big series of events to commemorate that, starting with a new book that as 75 stories, one from each of Archie’s 75 years, narrated by Archie himself, in-character. There’s also the new Jughead reboot, and creators Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson were both there to discuss the challenges and joys of creating it. Archie has an advantage over most comics, as its being available in so many grocery stores, chains, etc. and being obviously oriented at young people makes it most readers’ first comic book. It can thus be tricky to honor the series’ extensive past while still moving forward.

After launching the reboot of Archie and Jughead, Betty and Veronica get one next year, drawn by Adam Hughes. There’s also the Riverdale TV series inching closer to production, which will also have the Josie cast, Cheryl Blossom, and Kevin Keller. Kevin is mentioned as, along with Afterlife with Archie, one of the things that changed Archie Comics in a substantial way. Afterlife showed that you could take the Archie cast and put them in a Cthulhu horror series. And the new Sabrina is apparently one of the most terrifying horror comics on the market.

Questions included discussion of the Archie musical, which will be a Funny or Die production with a book by Adam McKay. As for a Sabrina movie, they clearly have some oars in the water but couldn’t say anything. I asked about Jughead and asexuality, as well as Melody from the Josie series being touted as bi in fan circles. Is it only original characters like Kevin who can be open about it? John Goldwater said they did not close off the Archie cast to anything like that as long as it was handled true to their character. Chip says he DOES see Jughead as asexual, and said there would be no romance in his comic. It was a good response, and another great panel.

My last panel of the day was Vertical Comics, with Ed Chavez and his Powerpoint Slides. (Sounds like a ska band…) He had no specific new manga to announce, but did run down their recent releases and the near future. Gundam the Origin has done better than most expected – a lot of folks expected it would be a disaster, but no. Kizumonogatari is still awaiting cover art, and so has been moved back 3 weeks, but is highly anticipated. Nichijou also got a big response, and Ed touted the series’ weirdness over its typical 4-koma schoolgirl humor.

The big news was at the end, when Ed announced new audiobooks of Attack on Titan: Harsh Mistress of the City and Kizumonogatari. These will have professional voice actors, SFX and background noises, and will be close to dramatizations. We heard some demo clips from both titles, and they sounded very intriguing. This is Vertical’s first foray into this type of work, and I’m interested to see how it does.

After that I walked through the rain back to the subway (yay for new 7 line!) and the hotel to type everything up. Tomorrow is just as packed – one wonders how close I’ll stick to my schedule this time.